Over the past couple months, I’ve read articles from 3 embarrassed reporters who fell, or almost fell, for various types of scams.
A common theme throughout is they all referred to themselves as stupid, fools, or idiots. Some might disagree, but my view is that one doesn’t get to write articles for ZDNet or “Business Insider” or “The Charlotte Observer” if they’re an idiot, stupid, or a fool
These reporters, unfortunately, are purveyors of the myth held so tenaciously by most people–that is, scam victims are either uneducated, stupid, or incredibly gullible. That mindset makes victims blame themselves for having been victimized, and also makes them hesitant to report the crime.
The truth is that these scammers have learned very well how to play on peoples emotions, thereby increasing the possibility that their prey will react in a manner they wouldn’t normally. They know when they’re likely to have the best success with their plans–shipping scams cluster around the holidays when many folks are sending packages, calling people around dinnertime when their attentions are focused on getting a meal on the table, weaving a tale that causes folks to fear for their safety or financial well-being or that of their loved ones. The good ones have learned their trade (if you can call it that) well, and have no conscience or compunctions about hurting others. They put us in positions where we often have to go against the way we as human beings are wired. Trust is one of those commodities that bind people together. Good relationships can’t exist without it. And yet, if people are not to become victims of scammers, then we often have to suspend that trust until we have proof that it’s warranted, even though our normal instinct is usually to trust others.
It used to be that scammers might call on the phone (though that was not cheap) or send letters via the mail, which wasn’t cheap either. Scams then primarily had a local reach. Nowadays, we’re bombarded on all sides with them. Phone calls via VOIP cost almost nothing. Scammers find various ways to get into our email inboxes without paying a cent, and these folks come from all around the world. Fatigue, stress, illness, changes in routine, and a thousand and one other factors can result in anyone letting their vigilance down for only a moment, and the victimization can take place.
If we learned anything during the pandemic, one of the things we surely came to understand is that the more we’re exposed to an illness, the greater the chance was that we would fall ill. So it is with scams. The more we’re exposed, the greater the odds we’ll fall victim. And we’re constantly exposed.
The mindset around scams needs to change. Everyone needs to understand that very wise, smart, well-educated, and savvy people can, under the right circumstances and at the right time, be victimized. Victims should be given empathy and support, not the side-eye of blame. They should be encouraged to report the crime, just as they might be encouraged to report a theft or an auto accident. They should be provided with psychological counseling, as is now provided to many victims of other types of crime.
I also note in this context that many scammers are also victims. Not those running the scam operations, of course, but the employees of call centers or the money mules that collect the ill-gotten gain for those running the scam operations are very often either tricked or forced into such jobs, either by being told they’ll be doing a job they really won’t be doing, or simply through financial necessity. I’ve relayed on this site on several occasions a story of a girl who called wanting to buy my property. Since I’m on the “Do Not Call” Registry, the call was illegal. She was obviously very young (I’d say early 20’s, if that), had no idea that she might be doing something illegal, and was just doing what she was told to do by the “boss”. She was probably ecstatic to have her first job. To have a grumpy, mean old lady tell her she was being asked to do something bad was likely very devastating. I felt sorry for her.
Since these scam organizations are basically organized crime, they’re not above human trafficking to get their employees, either. They leave a long trail of victims.
There are things we can do to protect ourselves. It’s not hopeless. But the first thing each and every one of us needs to do is to acknowledge that we ourselves could fall for a scam, and that doing so is not just for the gullible, stupid, uneducated, or bumblers among us. Once we realize that we can in fact be victimized, then we’re in a far better position to take steps to protect ourselves. If we feel we cannot be scammed, then we won’t ever prepare for the eventuality. If we understand we absolutely can fall for a con, just as we can be the victim of a fire or tornado, then we’ll understand the need to prepare and protect ourselves, just as we might do with a fire or tornado drill.